Text: Matthew 25:14-30
Studies have shown that 90% of error in thinking is due to error in perception. If you can change your perception, you can change your emotion and this can lead to new ideas.
This idea comes from old Newtonian physics that claim that things have an objective reality separate from our perception of them. Quantum physics, and particularly Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, reveal that, as our perception of an object changes, the object itself literally changes. The uncertainty principle states that the more precisely you measure one quantity, the less precisely you can know another associated quantity. What Heisenberg found was that the observation of a system in quantum mechanics disturbs the system enough that you can’t know everything about the system. The more precisely you measure the position of a particle, for example, the less it’s possible to precisely measure the particle’s momentum.
Before Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, no one had ever made any sort of prediction that knowledge was somehow inaccessible on a fundamental level. Sure, there were technological limitations to how well a measurement was made, but Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle went further, saying that nature itself doesn’t allow you to make measurements of both quantities beyond a certain level of precision. The scientists in the room know that this physical argument is now known to be fundamentally misleading. Scientists now know that while the act of measurement does lead to uncertainty, the loss of precision is less than that predicted by Heisenberg’s argument and that the formal mathematical result remains valid.
By now, maybe, hopefully, you are wondering why the Uncertainty Principle is important and, better yet, what does it have to do with the parable of the talents. A bit of background first. Some months ago I was in Stephen’s Used Book Store and ran across a little book titled, Can a Man Be a Christian To-day? (By the way, if you have never been to Stephen’s Book Store it is well worth a visit.) On the spine of the book I saw the name Poteat and wondered if it was written by Pullen’s former pastor, Edwin McNeil Poteat, who was a prolific writer. It wasn’t. The author was William Louis Poteat, the uncle of Edwin McNeil Poteat. I bought the book anyway and recently started reading it which led me to research the author.
William Louis Poteat was not a scientist. He was a college professor who in 1905 became the seventh president of Wake Forest College—now Wake Forest University. He was a Baptist through and through—a layman often challenging the good Baptists of North Carolina to be more progressive thinkers. I said he was not a scientist but his post graduate studies were in marine biology and he loved science and biology. Among the many things he is noted for, one is that he passionately defended the teaching of evolution as the “divine method of creation,” arguing it was fully compatible with Baptist beliefs. His studies led him to discover Darwinian concepts of natural selection and evolution and it probably won’t surprise any of you that in 1905 his beliefs were not shared by many of his fellow Baptists, who tried to remove him as president of Wake Forest, but he fought back and survived, and would later help persuade the North Carolina General Assembly to defeat a bill that would have banned the teaching of evolution. (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)
I tell you all of that because I want to share with you an amazing quote from his book, Can a Man Be a Christian To-day? that I think describes what the parable of the talents is all about. He writes:
But mere matter whether in atomic or stellar systems is mere matter, marvellous but dead. It is in the sphere of living nature that the revelations of modern science become significant and therefore revolutionary. For life is Nature’s goal and crown. Her struggle upward out of war and night into order and beauty, her wistful brooding for ages on the insensate elements, all her storm and pain find their compensation when Life first rises to view. It is lodged in a tiny cell. It is frail and simple and poorly equipped. But she takes it to her bosom, warms and guards it, feeds it with opportunity, establishes and diversifies it with struggle, until alga and moss and fern and rose, infusor and worm and insect and bird and [humanity] respond to her mother yearning from every nook of her wide domain.
Now we know that mere matter is not dead; in fact the dance of life is happening at all times at all levels in the physical world as well as the living world. But the truth of Poteat’s words—his concept that all our storm and pain find their compensation when Life first rises to view—when we take that tiny cell into our bosom, warm it, guard it, feed it with opportunity—that it is that moment we join the dance. It is that moment that we are changed and transformed.
Many would argue that the parable of the talents is about money and what we do with our money. But we miss the point if we simply make it about money. At the core, this parable is about life—about how we feed what we have with opportunity. It’s about our willingness to take a risk; to be the infusor that brings simple matter to life. Ultimately, the door to understanding this parable hinges on our willingness to challenge our perceptions of who God is and how we see God. And furthermore, our ability to change our perceptions for God’s continuing revelation. Think about the response of the man who received one talent and what he says to his master upon the master’s return. Listen again to what he said: “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went [and dug a hole] and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”
The great scholarly debate about this passage is whether or not we should treat the landowner as God. You can read the story again when you get home and decide for yourself. But whether or not you see the landowner as God, the landowner is the authority figure in this text, and the servant’s perception of the landowner drives his actions and his reality. If you reason that the landowner is God, the servant’s perception of God is that of a harsh and judgmental God. At his very core he is afraid of this God; and his fear causes him to shut down, to play it safe, to live small. I’ve been there—where this man is. Fearful of a zapping God, a God out to get me if I make one wrong decision or mistake. I know what it is like to live small for fear of disappointing God. And I know that when we perceive God in such a way that becomes our reality of God. We live fearful, small, never taking a risk for something larger than ourselves. We dig holes to bury whatever talent or talents we’ve been given whether one or one hundred.
I wonder when reading this parable if the error in our life of faith is our perception of who we believe God to be and our perception of how God engages humanity. If we perceive God as harsh, judgmental, vengeful and all those other damning things that many of us were taught about God, we will, like the man who received one talent, dig a hole and live small. Our reality will be a fearful life, where at best God is someone to save us from our wretchedness. But if our perception of God—how we see God—is that of love and grace and blessing; a God of second chances; a God who is pulling for us, cheering us on, wanting goodness in our lives, then our reality will be a life of fullness, courage, and hope; a life of taking risks for love and compassion and peace; a life that is not small but rather one that is lived believing and trusting that with God nothing is impossible. We don’t have to dig holes and hide who we are. And how exciting to think about that reality!
Yes, studies have shown that 90% of error in thinking is due to error in perception. If you can change your perception, you can change your emotion and this can lead to new ideas—a new reality. How we see God matters. If ever there were a time when our world needed a new reality of God, it is now. What would we possibly have to lose in being willing to see God with new eyes? What is your perception? And what new idea is waiting to become your new reality?
The Uncertainty Principle and the Parable of the Talents: what do they have in common? The more we try to measure or limit God and God’s love for us, the less we will know about the vastness of God’s love for us.